What’s old is new again. Especially when it comes to mixing old and new.

There was a time where it seemed like all Survivor ever did was stage seasons that combined returning players and newbies. In a span of six seasons — from season 22 (Redemption Island) through season 27 (Blood vs. Water) — Survivor featured a mix of old and new players five times. Only one season in that span (One World) went with the show’s original premise of sticking complete strangers on an island together to see what happens.

Around that six season-stretch, Jeff Probst told EW that the show had evolved to the point where he thought there would be some returning player element in every single season. But then something else happened. The show evolved… again. After combining old and new players five out of six times, Survivor went 10 straight seasons without mixing returnees and newbies. Eight of the 10 seasons since season 27 have been all new players, while the two others (Second Chance and Game Changers) have been all returning contestants.

With that in mind, we asked host Jeff Probst out on location for Survivor: Edge of Extinction why they stopped mixing old and new contestants for so long, and why they have now gone back to it for season 38 (which premieres Feb. 20 on CBS). And while Probst didn’t really answer why they stopped mixing players, he did shed some light on why they went back to it.

“I get on a whiteboard and I write down the last 10 or 12 seasons,” says Probst of his process for coming up with twists and casting decisions. “And I just look at them. What were the themes? Were there returning players? And you just sort of look for a rhythm and go… we’re due.”

For Probst, bringing players back also helped reinforce the new format change they wanted to try out in testing the physical, mental, and emotional limits of their players for season 38. “So for this season, once we landed on Extinction,” says the host, “what stood out to me is we’re asking people to go further than they’ve ever gone before in a game that’s already very difficult. Let’s bring reminders of how difficult it is. We’re going to bring four returning players that are going to remind you. Wentworth, David, Aubry, Joe — pretty good players. Pretty amazing track record when you look at their stats. None of them have won. That’s how hard this game is. Why? Because it’s unpredictable.”

Probst also thinks the fact that the returning players are so revered and have not won will show the newbies what it takes to make it in this game. “So now the mindset is, yeah, Survivor is hard, says Probst. “I might have to do something I’m not anticipating. Exactly! So that when they get to Extinction, they’re ready emotionally to say, ‘I do want to go deeper and push further, because I know what it takes to win and those four haven’t even won and they’re pretty damn good.’”

Probst also points out that while the living on Edge of Extinction will be difficult, the decision to go there by those voted off should be easy: “This isn’t a trick. You should go! You’re here! Why would you go home to Ponderosa and eat pizza? Who does that? I’m being serious. Who leaves their family, their job, their kids, their friends, their earning potential to come play six days and go, ‘I don’t know if I want to go anymore’? Okay, we cast wrong. We should have never put you on the show. Rest assured you’ll never be coming back.”

Unlike Aubry, David, Kelley, and Joe.

To watch Probst talk about why they decided to mix up old and new players again, watch the video at the top of the post. And for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols


Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst looks at his feet while telling them to "COME ON IN, GUYS!"

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